WI: Switch the roles of R. E. Lee and J. E. Johnston in the ACW

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I should also note that in 1861 Johnston was part of the group asked about attacking the North, and if my recollection is correct Johnston was thinking in terms of a turning movement through Maryland (that is, crossing the Potomac by ford and placing the army "in rear of Washington"). All else being equal up to September 1862, this provides for a quite different Maryland Campaign!
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Found the actual date. It is a little later than I thought.

Joe Johnston arrives in Richmond on the 12th, then goes to Yorktown to see the situation first-hand. He is back in Richmond on the 14th, meets with Davis, and proposes abandoning the Yorktown defenses, retreating to Richmond, gathering all forces there and fighting the Yankees there. Davis wants to mull this over and calls a conference for the next day.

The Conference starts at 11 AM on the 15th and goes to 1 AM on the 16th with a break for dinner. Present are President Davis, Secretary of War Randolph, Davis' military advisor Lee, J. E. Johnston and two of Johnston's commanders -- Longstreet and G. W. Smith. All six of these men knew McClellan personally. Davis was considered to have made McClellan a protegee in the 1850s. Johnston and Smith were close personal friends of McClellan. Lee had commanded McClellan in Mexico, and Longstreet had known McClellan between the wars in the Army.

Johnston's prime idea is the abandon Yorktown/concentrate at Richmond/fight and destroy McClellan there. His alternative is for Magruder to hold McClellan as long as possible at Yorktown while Johnston takes all possible reinforcements and goes north to threaten Washington.

Lee and Randolph are generally opposed to both ideas. Neither wants to abandon Norfolk. Both want to gain time to raise conscripts with the new law and integrate them into the army. They prefer fighting a long delaying action down near Yorktown and in the lower Peninsula.

Longstreet and Smith want to attack to the north and threaten Washington, figuring this will cause McClellan to be recalled in whole or in pert. Smith is the most aggressive -- he starts talking of not just Washington, but also Baltimore and Philadelphia. Longstreet says McClellan will be slow and methodical, so he anticipates the earliest date for a McClellan attack will be May 1st.

Davis decides to send Johnston down to Yorktown -- as happened in real life.
Hmm. This sounds imprudent, to me - Yorktown has a useful delaying effect, after all.

Your comment would sound imprudent to Johnston, who did not share your strong belief in the Yorktown position and cited many problems with it.

Johnston's idea is to retreat to a strong position near Richmond and let McClellan advance to it, extending his supply lines -- then strike the Yankees, defeat them in open battle, and pursue them back down the Peninsula, destroying all that they could of McClellan's force. His thinking looks a bit like the Russian strategy against Napoleon in 1812 if you are looking for a reference.

Davis decided against it and ordered Johnston down to Yorktown. Johnston wrote later (hindsight) that he agreed because he assumed it would work out as he wanted anyway: when McClellan finally was ready to move, Johnston would retreat to Richmond. That is what happened in real life. The only difference is that Johnston would have preferred to retreat earlier.

Lee and Randolph want to hold near Yorktown to gain time. Randolph was particularly concerned with protecting the naval resources at Norfolk (Randolph had been a Midshipman in the US Navy 1831-39). Both were very concerned with gaining time to settle the Army (the 1-year Volunteers were ready to leave and the new Conscription law was going into effect).

Longstreet and G. W. Smith were strong supporters of the let's-threaten-the-North plan.

Johnston's initial report to Davis on the 14th points out lots of weaknesses in the Yorktown line and the positions to be taken up after it is breached. He is also not much of a fan of Magruder (Magruder thought he would have more success with Lee, so the feeling was apparently shared). Here is what Johnston says of it in his memoirs:
1634416221126.png

1634416340788.png

1634416415417.png


Which part of Johnston's analysis -- apparently formed during his visit to Magruder on the 13th -- do you disagree with?
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
I should also note that in 1861 Johnston was part of the group asked about attacking the North, and if my recollection is correct Johnston was thinking in terms of a turning movement through Maryland (that is, crossing the Potomac by ford and placing the army "in rear of Washington"). All else being equal up to September 1862, this provides for a quite different Maryland Campaign!

How so? Lee crossed the Potomac by ford and was in the act of placing his army "in rear of Washington" when McClellan captured a copy of his orders. What exactly is the difference?
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
How so? Lee crossed the Potomac by ford and was in the act of placing his army "in rear of Washington" when McClellan captured a copy of his orders. What exactly is the difference?


It's because, and forgive me if I'm overconcluding, but my understanding of "in rear of Washington" is as follows:

1634417525014.png



The "right turn" means directly threatening the ability of the Union army to sustain itself in Washington by getting behind it; the route Lee took (the left turn) isn't behind Washington but is at most on the flank, and even if he was going to go deep into Pennsylvania it's a much bigger ask to block the supply routes to Washington.

As I say, this is my understanding of what "in rear" of Washington means.

Clarifying edit: the threat posed by getting in rear of Washington in the way I describe is direct, and compels the Union army in Washington to come out and fight ASAP because its supply lines are threatened; it could thus be assumed that Johnston would be more ready for a battle to start at any time. The move on Harpers Ferry doesn't have quite the same quality to it, because the loss of Harpers Ferry and the garrison is highly embarrassing but not crippling while the loss of Harpers Ferry without the garrison is just embarrassing. Lee's historical movements made him vulnerable in a way that was not necessary (cf. Longstreet's force up at Hagerstown instead of down by the South Mountain gaps) which suggests that Lee did not expect a battle to be brought on at that time.
 
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Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Which part of Johnston's analysis -- apparently formed during his visit to Magruder on the 13th -- do you disagree with?
"Thirteen thousand effective men" and "a hundred and thirty-three thousand", for a start. Johnston's analysis is predicated on the idea that upon McClellan reaching the Warwick line he outnumbered Maguder 10:1, while in fact it's more like 3:1 - a not inconsequential difference.



But aside from that, I think Johnston is presenting a bit of a false dichotomy. He is presenting it as either holding a forward line or concentrating a force at Richmond, but it seems obvious that holding a forward line to delay McClellan's move upriver (specifically up the York, and up the James because abandoning the York also means abandoning the James) will buy time for that described concentration to take place.

Note that this is a fairly minor point - I think the Yorktown line can hold until the siege guns are set up, Johnston may or may not be thinking in terms of abandoning it before then.


As for the weaknesses that Johnston describes, he mentions:
1) "the unfinished nature" of the works between Yorktown proper and the head of the inundations (i.e. the Red and White Redoubt). It sounds like this is anxiety over the possibility of McClellan throwing a column of attack of 80,000 or so at the Red and White Redoubts, which might be possible if McClellan actually had one of those - he didn't.
2) The fact that the inundations protect the Union troops as well as the Confederate. So Johnston here is thinking in terms of a sally against the Union troops after concentrating the largest possible army; in this case, it is fair enough that a withdrawal would be desired, though of course doing so gives up the York to Union amphibious movement.
3) "The great length of the line" compared to the troops occupying it - I honestly don't understand this one. The line is mostly unfordable river, and Magruder is able to heavily concentrate troops at the possible points of attack - even with the 36,000 described he could put 4,000 at Lees Mill, 4,000 at Wynns Mill, 5,000 at Dam #1 (meaning that in each case a narrow crossing point is defended by more troops than can fit in the frontage) and still hold the gap between the Warwick river and the York with almost 20,000 men in fortified works. That's more men than can fit in the frontage there too, as it's about 2,500 yards of fortified space on the map and a two-deep line of men covering that entire frontage in touch of elbows would only be 10,000 men.


It also looks like Johnston is arguing that the Warwick line should be abandoned once it's about to be turned up the York, and I'd agree with that, but that doesn't mean the line is weak - it means it can be turned. It's very strong frontally.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
This is not what Johnston's analysis was. All at the 14th April meeting agreed that the Warwick line was impregnable to assault. Indeed, it was lamented that McClellan didn't assault the line. What they were worried about was what would happen if the Navy, especially with ironclads, ran past Yorktown, or what would happen once McClellan brought up siege artillery and smashed the line with regular approaches. In context, Johnston argued that the forces not yet on the Warwick line could do no good there (since you can't get more impregnable than impregnable) and should be sent to join Jackson in an offensive against Washington.

Magruder (under)rated his strength at 31,500 effectives on 11th April, and DR Jones' and Whiting's divisions had reached the Warwick line by the meeting of the 14th. There was the equivalent of 2 Confederate Corps at the time of Gettysburg/ the Wilderness defending that line. When Longstreet's and GW Smith's divisions were ordered to the line, there was no space for them. There was a little shuffle, but two divisions sat things out in the far rear because the line was saturated with troops.
 
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trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
It's because, and forgive me if I'm overconcluding, but my understanding of "in rear of Washington" is as follows:

View attachment 418610


The "right turn" means directly threatening the ability of the Union army to sustain itself in Washington by getting behind it; the route Lee took (the left turn) isn't behind Washington but is at most on the flank, and even if he was going to go deep into Pennsylvania it's a much bigger ask to block the supply routes to Washington.

As I say, this is my understanding of what "in rear" of Washington means.

Clarifying edit: the threat posed by getting in rear of Washington in the way I describe is direct, and compels the Union army in Washington to come out and fight ASAP because its supply lines are threatened; it could thus be assumed that Johnston would be more ready for a battle to start at any time. The move on Harpers Ferry doesn't have quite the same quality to it, because the loss of Harpers Ferry and the garrison is highly embarrassing but not crippling while the loss of Harpers Ferry without the garrison is just embarrassing. Lee's historical movements made him vulnerable in a way that was not necessary (cf. Longstreet's force up at Hagerstown instead of down by the South Mountain gaps) which suggests that Lee did not expect a battle to be brought on at that time.

Well, that's all very pretty. I am sure you have a better understanding of "rear" than that. Unless you have some detail about Johnston's plan beyond what I have, you have no idea where Johnston was planning to go. If you do have detail on Johnston's plan, please post it so we can all share.

Neither Lee nor Johnston would have thought much of the Confederate chances of taking Washington or Baltimore by attacking the Federals in prepared defenses. Both would have thought they could not take those places by a siege of regular approaches (since they did not have a siege train, among other things).

No one really knows what Lee intended for sure when he crossed the Potomac. That said, it appears he was intending to draw the Union away from Washington to fight a battle away from the Union defenses of Washington and Baltimore. He seems to repeat the same idea he had in the Antietam Campaign the next year in the Gettysburg Campaign, with more preparation.

We know where Lee was headed: to Harrisburg. If Lee can move up to Harrisburg, he will have cut the B&O RR and the Pennsylvania RR. That means he will have cut two of the three East-West RR lines in the Union. This will throttle US industrial capacity, shut off coal shipments, ravage food shipments, seed chaos in the Union war effort, etc. Lee will be able to wreck Penn RR complex at Harrisburg -- crippling the capacity of the Penn RR even after he withdraws. The reason Lee is doing that is to make the Union forces come to him. They cannot let him do that. They cannot let him stay there. They must drive him out.

Johnston's plan sounds similar: threaten Washington, pull McClellan back from the Peninsula in whole or in part. G. W. Smith is the one talking about Baltimore and Philadelphia. If Johnston crosses the Potomac, he might be doing exactly what Lee did in the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns, for exactly the same reasons.
 
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Well, that's all very pretty. I am sure you have a better understanding of "rear" than that. Unless you have some detail about Johnston's plan beyond what I have, you have no idea where Johnston was planning to go. If you do have detail on Johnston's plan, please post it so we can all share.

Neither Lee nor Johnston would have thought much of the Confederate chances of taking Washington or Baltimore by attacking the Federals in prepared defenses. Both would have thought they could take those places by a siege of regular approaches (since they did not have a siege train, among other things).

No one really knows what Lee intended for sure when he crossed the Potomac. That said, it appears he was intending to draw the Union away from Washington to fight a battle away from the Union defenses of Washington and Baltimore. He seems to repeat the same idea he had in the Antietam Campaign the next year in the Gettysburg Campaign, with more preparation.

We know where Lee was headed: to Harrisburg. If Lee can move up to Harrisburg, he will have cut the B&O RR and the Pennsylvania RR. That means he will have cut two of the three East-West RR lines in the Union. This will throttle US industrial capacity, shut off coal shipments, ravage food shipments, seed chaos in the Union war effort, etc. Lee will be able to wreck Penn RR complex at Harrisburg -- crippling the capacity of the Penn RR even after he withdraws. The reason Lee is doing that is to make the Union forces come to him. They cannot let him do that. They cannot let him stay there. They must drive him out.

Johnston's plan sounds similar: threaten Washington, pull McClellan back from the Peninsula in whole or in part. G. W. Smith is the one talking about Baltimore and Philadelphia. If Johnston crosses the Potomac, he might be doing exactly what Lee did in the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns, for exactly the same reasons.
Would Johnston's plan have worked? Imagine a scenario where he's given approval. Does Lincoln call McClellan back? I'd say yes considering how panicked everyone in Washington became anytime a Confederate force even sniffed in the general direction of the capital.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Well, that's all very pretty. I am sure you have a better understanding of "rear" than that. Unless you have some detail about Johnston's plan beyond what I have, you have no idea where Johnston was planning to go. If you do have detail on Johnston's plan, please post it so we can all share.
Like I say, "in rear" of Washington to me means getting behind Washington - that is, to the rear of it. But Johnston doesn't mention Pennsylvania - here's what he's saying:


Under these circumstances, the three military officers proposed, as the course offering the best chance of success, the concentration there of all the available forces of the Confederate States; crossing the Potomac, into Maryland, at the nearest ford with this army, and placing it in rear of Washington. This, we thought, would compel McClellan to fight with the chances of battle against him. Success would bring Maryland into the Confederacy, we thought, and enable us to transfer the war to the northern border of that State, where the defensive should be resumed.


So wherever it is that Johnston wants to go is:

- crossing the Potomac, into Maryland.
- "in rear of Washington".
- intended to draw McClellan out of Washington to fight.
- in addition, it seems to be somewhere in Maryland, because success would "enable us to transfer the war to the northern border of that State, where the defensive should be resumed". Johnston does not mention Pennsylvania.


This is why I think it's Johnston threatening to cut the Washington-Baltimore rail line, or taking Baltimore (when it's not as fortified as it would be later in the war). The intent is explicitly to draw McClellan out of the Washington fortifications and fight a battle in the field on Confederate terms.
 

trice

Colonel
Joined
May 2, 2006
Would Johnston's plan have worked? Imagine a scenario where he's given approval. Does Lincoln call McClellan back? I'd say yes considering how panicked everyone in Washington became anytime a Confederate force even sniffed in the general direction of the capital.
Would Johnston's plan to threaten Washington in April 1861 have worked?

It certainly would have alarmed the authorities in Washington. They would have probably tried to pull more troops towards Washington and to keep McDowell close. They might have pulled troops back from McClellan and if they did, the most likely ones would have been Franklin's Division of McDowell's Corps, which had been sent to McClellan. McClellan kept those troops aboard ship for a while, so moving them to Washington would have been very quick.

As to how it would have worked out, that is murkier. It would depend on what the Union did.

Johnston doesn't really have the supply capacity to attack Washington, and he does not have the forces required to take the city by assault if adequately defended. He doesn't have anything we could describe as a siege train or a pontoon train. Washington will not be taken.

If McClellan's force is left relatively intact (say the loss of Franklin's division to reinforce Washington) and Magruder is not reinforced (IOW no reinforcements by Longstreet, G. W. Smith and others), McClellan is actually in a better situation vis-a-vis Magruder at Yorktown. If McClellan acts aggressively with Johnston known to be further away, Magruder might be thrown out of the Yorktown line about April 25 and pursued up the Peninsula with the Yankee navy in control of the York River. That would look pretty bad in Richmond.
 

Saphroneth

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Feb 18, 2017
If McClellan's force is left relatively intact (say the loss of Franklin's division to reinforce Washington) and Magruder is not reinforced (IOW no reinforcements by Longstreet, G. W. Smith and others), McClellan is actually in a better situation vis-a-vis Magruder at Yorktown. If McClellan acts aggressively with Johnston known to be further away, Magruder might be thrown out of the Yorktown line about April 25 and pursued up the Peninsula with the Yankee navy in control of the York River. That would look pretty bad in Richmond.
I don't think you can move up the timeline a week, at least not by Johnston being elsewhere. The possible times you can breach the line are:


5th April: lucky corps assault which happens to breach the line

16th April: the planned assault at Dam #1 goes ahead and works

~29th April: McClellan never plans the assault at Dam #1 and goes straight to landing his siege guns on the 11th-12th (after the storm) rather than on the 16th (after the assault is cancelled).

5th May: Siege guns set up.

Any time: Naval cooperation in running past Yorktown/Gloucester Point by night and bombarding them from upriver, or bombarding the town at long range and happening to take out the wharves


It certainly would have alarmed the authorities in Washington. They would have probably tried to pull more troops towards Washington and to keep McDowell close. They might have pulled troops back from McClellan and if they did, the most likely ones would have been Franklin's Division of McDowell's Corps, which had been sent to McClellan. McClellan kept those troops aboard ship for a while, so moving them to Washington would have been very quick.
Even without Franklin the number of men defending Washington would amount to (PFD):
53,184 (historical Dept. Rappahannock plus historical Dept. Valley at the end of May 1862, i.e. Banks plus McDowell minus Franklin)
+ 12,845 (historical Dept. DC/Alexandria at that time)
So 66,000 at minimum. With Franklin it's 77,000, and in addition the Department of the Mountains has ~25,000 to call on (including Blenker).

I'm not sure how big Johnston was imagining this offensive to be (i.e. how big it could get with forces available to him before the end of April) but at the end of the Yorktown siege there were 58,500 effectives in the lines. As of the point when Johnston visited AP Hill's troops were included in the troops then in the lines, which means there were 38,100 effectives in the line.

That makes Johnston's offensive about 20,000 effectives, plus Jackson's Valley force (which wasn't very big). Call it a corps all told.

It's an interesting question however how much this could threaten Banks if Banks' forces were actually positioned for defence in the Valley. My understanding is that a big part of what made Banks so vulnerable in the historical Valley Campaign was that so much of his force was transferred to the Dept. of the Rappahannock (down at Fredericksburg, mostly) that he was down to only a couple of brigades.
 

trice

Colonel
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Like I say, "in rear" of Washington to me means getting behind Washington - that is, to the rear of it. But Johnston doesn't mention Pennsylvania - here's what he's saying:


Under these circumstances, the three military officers proposed, as the course offering the best chance of success, the concentration there of all the available forces of the Confederate States; crossing the Potomac, into Maryland, at the nearest ford with this army, and placing it in rear of Washington. This, we thought, would compel McClellan to fight with the chances of battle against him. Success would bring Maryland into the Confederacy, we thought, and enable us to transfer the war to the northern border of that State, where the defensive should be resumed.


So wherever it is that Johnston wants to go is:

- crossing the Potomac, into Maryland.
- "in rear of Washington".
- intended to draw McClellan out of Washington to fight.
- in addition, it seems to be somewhere in Maryland, because success would "enable us to transfer the war to the northern border of that State, where the defensive should be resumed". Johnston does not mention Pennsylvania.


This is why I think it's Johnston threatening to cut the Washington-Baltimore rail line, or taking Baltimore (when it's not as fortified as it would be later in the war). The intent is explicitly to draw McClellan out of the Washington fortifications and fight a battle in the field on Confederate terms.
You are describing here a thought Johnston discussed with Davis and others on October 1, 1861.

The Confederate situation is very different then. They are situated further north, closer to the Potomac. The army is headquartered at Fairfax Courthouse. McClellan is actually in Washington, East of Johnston's position, not down on the Peninsula. Heck, the meeting is actually held at Beauregard's HQ because Beauregard has not been sent to Tennessee yet. Even so, it appears that it is you who thinks "in rear of Washington" means the Washington-Baltimore RR. Johnston himself never mentions it.

One thing that anyone studying Joe Johnston must realize is that he is extremely reluctant to commit to details. His descriptions of what he would do are always vague and non-specific. It does not matter which situation we are talking about in the war (late 1861 near Washington, early 1862 near Washington, April-May 1862 on the Peninsula, Vicksburg in April-May-June 1863, Atlanta in 1864). Joe Johnston does not like to say anything in detailed specifics. That continues into his writings after the Civil War was over. It is simply part of his personality. IMHO, Johnston's basic idea was "we'll sort of do this, the enemy will do something, and I'll decide what to do when I see what the enemy is doing." He was very confident of his ability to act in the moment, I suppose.

As to "crossing the Potomac, into Maryland" -- if you are in Virginia and you cross the Potomac River, you will be in Maryland. There is literally no point at which you can cross the Potomac River from Virginia and not be in Maryland. Lee and the ANV crossed the Potomac, into Maryland in the Antietam Campaign. Lee and the ANV did it again in the Gettysburg Campaign. Early did it in 1864 on his way to Monocacy and Ft. Stevens.

As to "in rear of Washington" -- Harrisburg, PA seems to be directly North of Washington, DC, perhaps a bit to the East of it. Would you please explain how that is not "in rear of Washington"? You can say it is further "in rear of Washington" if you want, but this bit about it not being "in rear of Washington" is not going to stand.

Lee and Johnston are both examples of an "intent is explicitly to draw McClellan out of the Washington fortifications and fight a battle in the field on Confederate terms." Lee's plans tend to be more detailed and specific (and they were actually executed, so we know far more about them). Your Johnston example is about drawing McClellan out of Washington because that is where McClellan was in late September of 1861. In April, 1862 McClellan is down in the Peninsula -- the object of Johnston's 1862 plan to move North is to get the Federal authorities to pull McClellan back from the Peninsula to Washington.
 

Saphroneth

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Lee and Johnston are both examples of an "intent is explicitly to draw McClellan out of the Washington fortifications and fight a battle in the field on Confederate terms." Lee's plans tend to be more detailed and specific (and they were actually executed, so we know far more about them). Your Johnston example is about drawing McClellan out of Washington because that is where McClellan was in late September of 1861. In April, 1862 McClellan is down in the Peninsula -- the object of Johnston's 1862 plan to move North is to get the Federal authorities to pull McClellan back from the Peninsula to Washington.
Yes, because what I'm talking about here is a what-if considering Johnston being the one initiating the 1862 Maryland Campaign, all else having been equal up to that point. I know that there are two Johnston plans being discussed, but I've been able to keep them distinct at least so far as I can tell - I apologize if I haven't been clear, but when I was talking about "in rear of Washington" I was thinking in terms of an 1862 Maryland.

Was Lee's intent in 1862 Maryland explicitly to draw McClellan out of the Washington fortifications and fight a battle in the field on Confederate terms? I suppose it might have been, though I can't offhand recall any such explicit statement; it seems to me though that Lee's 1862 Maryland as actually executed involved him putting himself in a vulnerable situation while McClellan was advancing out of Washington; if he intended to fight a battle in the field on Confederate terms he signally failed to do so.



As to "in rear of Washington" -- Harrisburg, PA seems to be directly North of Washington, DC, perhaps a bit to the East of it. Would you please explain how that is not "in rear of Washington"? You can say it is further "in rear of Washington" if you want, but this bit about it not being "in rear of Washington" is not going to stand.
My reasoning is that Johnston's explanation of his 1861 plan was:

- get in rear of Washington
- fight and defeat McClellan in the field
- transfer the theatre of war to the northern border of Maryland, and go on the defensive there

Now, it is perhaps possible that Johnston meant to go into Pennsylvnia, but nowhere to my knowledge does he say so, and it is not necessary to go into Pennsylvania to put himself in rear of Washington.
His stated goals could all be achieved by going into Maryland without needing to go into Pennsylvania, so I don't think it can be said that his plan mandates going into Pennsylvania - especially given his (stated) intent to transfer the theatre of war to the northern border of Maryland and go on the defensive there. If his plan was to go into Pennsylvania then it wasn't stated and it isn't necessary to follow his plan, and going into Pennsylvania involves a significantly longer march.

In addition, if Johnston's plan was to go into Pennsylvania, then crossing at the nearest ford (as he said he would do) and then going via the Valley (i.e. turning left, going through South Mountain, turning right) is travelling in enemy territory when he could instead go in friendly territory and cross the Potomac further upriver - Harpers Ferry is still in Confederate control in October 1861, if I recall correctly. If instead his intent is to pass through Frederick and march north on the east side of the Catoctins then the difference in plan seems to me to be a difference in kind with Lee's 1863 plan and a difference in degree with going after Baltimore.



It seems like the argument that going up to Harrisburg is also in rear of Washington DC could be expanded further. Why not go to Philadelphia in that case?
 

trice

Colonel
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May 2, 2006
Even without Franklin the number of men defending Washington would amount to (PFD):
53,184 (historical Dept. Rappahannock plus historical Dept. Valley at the end of May 1862, i.e. Banks plus McDowell minus Franklin)
+ 12,845 (historical Dept. DC/Alexandria at that time)
So 66,000 at minimum. With Franklin it's 77,000, and in addition the Department of the Mountains has ~25,000 to call on (including Blenker).

I'm not sure how big Johnston was imagining this offensive to be (i.e. how big it could get with forces available to him before the end of April) but at the end of the Yorktown siege there were 58,500 effectives in the lines. As of the point when Johnston visited AP Hill's troops were included in the troops then in the lines, which means there were 38,100 effectives in the line.

That makes Johnston's offensive about 20,000 effectives, plus Jackson's Valley force (which wasn't very big). Call it a corps all told.

It's an interesting question however how much this could threaten Banks if Banks' forces were actually positioned for defence in the Valley. My understanding is that a big part of what made Banks so vulnerable in the historical Valley Campaign was that so much of his force was transferred to the Dept. of the Rappahannock (down at Fredericksburg, mostly) that he was down to only a couple of brigades.
This is on April 15 and Johnston is talking about anyone and everyone who has not already been sent down the Peninsula to Magruder, plus anyone he can possibly get from anyplace else. Lee is objecting to stripping the Carolinas and Georgia. Johnston wants all the new troops forming under the conscription law if he can get them. He will take them all up towards Washington and the Potomac -- plus every bit of supply and ammo he can pry loose, no doubt. Base any calculations on that desire of Johnston.

Meanwhile, please note that one of the participants in that conference has very different ideas about crossing the Potomac than what you think. Longstreet had already been communicating with Jackson about joining forces to sweep the Shenandoah. From Longstreet's memoir:
... About the 1st of April, Generals Johnston and G. W. Smith were called to Richmond for conference with the War Department, leaving me in command. On the 3d I wrote General Jackson, in the Shenandoah Valley, proposing to join him with sufficient reinforcements to strike the Federal force in front of him a sudden, severe blow, and thus compel a change in the movements of McClellan's army. I explained that the responsibility of the move could not be taken unless I was with the detachment to give it vigor and action to meet my views, or give time to get back behind the Rapidan in case the authorities discovered the move and ordered its recall.
I had been left in command on the Rapidan, but was not authorized to assume command of the Valley district. As the commander of the district did not care to have an officer there of higher rank, the subject was discontinued.
General Johnston, assigned to the Department of the Peninsula and Norfolk, made an inspection of his new lines, and on his return recommended that they should be abandoned. Meanwhile, his army had been ordered to Richmond. He was invited to meet the President to discuss military affairs, and asked General G. W. Smith and myself to go with him. The Secretary of War and General R. E. Lee were with the President when we met.
It was the first time that I had been called to such august presence, to deliberate on momentous matters, so I had nothing to say till called on. The views intended to be offered were prefaced by saying that I knew General McClellan; that he was a military engineer, and would move his army by careful measurement and preparation; that he would not be ready to advance before the 1st of May. The President interrupted, and spoke of McClellan's high attainments and capacity in a style indicating that he did not care to hear any one talk who did not have the same appreciation of our great adversary. McClellan had been a special favorite with Mr. Davis when he was Secretary of War in the Pierce administration, and he seemed to take such reflections upon his favorites as somewhat personal. From the hasty interruption I concluded that my opinion had only been asked through polite recognition of my presence, not that it was wanted, and said no more. My intention was to suggest that we leave Magruder to look after McClellan, and march, as proposed to Jackson a few days before, through the Valley of Virginia, cross the Potomac, threaten Washington, and call McClellan to his own capital.
As you can see, there is reason to suppose that Johnston, Smith and Longstreet were not thinking the way you are. Johnston had recruited Smith to be the stalking horse to present the most aggressive part of the plan before the meeting.
 

Saphroneth

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Joined
Feb 18, 2017
As you can see, there is reason to suppose that Johnston, Smith and Longstreet were not thinking the way you are. Johnston had recruited Smith to be the stalking horse to present the most aggressive part of the plan before the meeting.
I'm not sure what you mean about their not thinking the way I am. I'm looking at the actual available resources for such a plan.

There's basically four pools of troops that could realistically take part in this expedition. In order of availability:

The first is Jackson's Valley force (including the troops from BR Johnson's force incorporated into his). This is already ipso facto available to go. I do not have solid numbers for the effectives.

The second is that portion of the force sent to Yorktown historically which had not gone at the time Johnston proposed to launch this plan. This amounts to the brigades of Toombs, Anderson, Pickett, Whiting, Pettigrew, Hood and Hampton, and is 19,300 effectives (the 1,000 men of the 1st and 17th VA were part of AP Hill's brigade, and arrived with the bde artillery on the 17th). This can be considered disposable for whatever purpose is required.

The third is the Confederate "Army of the North" (troops along the Rapidan/Rappahannock in late April/early May), which I did miss before. This is:
Field's Brigade (left at Fredericksburg when Johnston left).
JR Anderson's brigade and Branch's brigade (both of which were sent north when recalled to Richmond in late April; Branch was reinforced by two regiments and a battery from Richmond).
Gregg's brigade (called in from SC and sent straight there).
That part of Ewell's division which was at Gordonsville instead of originating from in the Valley itself. This appears to me to be Trimble's bde and Taylor's bde but not Elzey's or Scott's.

This is disposable if and only if Richmond is considered sufficiently safe from the north.

And the fourth is any other troops which would be called on in this possibility but which were not historically.


Historically, Jackson's Valley involved his Valley force plus the part of Ewell's division mentioned above (italicized). It seems as though the force involved in the Valley campaign could be roughly doubled, or maybe a bit more, by the addition of the troops described above, but given that Anderson/Branch/Gregg were the fruits of calling in reinforcements from the South I'm not sure if the additional flood of troops who bolstered the Richmond concentration of troops in June could be had by the end of April.

It would be interesting to try and work out how much time there is available to conduct the conjectured offensive. It might well be that when the York is opened up by McClellan's siege guns half of Johnston's force is way up around Charlestown...
 
Joined
Aug 10, 2021
So we've talked a fair bit about Johnston's handling on the Peninsula Campaign. Assuming he's able to drive the Union off, how do you guys think he would fair in the rest of '62 or even into '63? Would Davis even keep him around that long? Who might replace him?

Also, as to the second part of my question, any other thoughts on Lee out west in Johnston's OTL position?
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
any other thoughts on Lee out west in Johnston's OTL position?
Lee was a highly effective commander in his own right so the main question is what impact the differences between the ANV and the AoT would have had on Lee had he been its commander instead of Johnston. Lee was fortunate in commanding the ANV, an organization that could trace a proud pedigree to the Virginia Militia. Lee was a Virginian as was much of the officer corps. He led an army that fought most of its battles on its "native" soil in a tight geographical area that was well suited for defense. And the Davis government's proximity to the ANV meant that it was often favored with whatever logistics and support was required. But the AoT did not have the same advantages as the ANV, which meant that Lee might have faced more daunting obstacles than he faced in Virginia. Moreover, Lee's deeply held views on taking the war to northern soil would have been harder to put in practice in the western theater, so it becomes a speculative question as to the way that Lee would have handled the western forces in place of Johnston.​
 

Piedone

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 8, 2020
. Lee was a Virginian as was much of the officer corps. He led an army that fought most of its battles on its "native" soil in a tight geographical area that was well suited for defense.
Well...I don‘t know....many a general blundered in territory even more suited for defense than Virginia.
Maybe all of us are just concluding that Virginia is that easy to defend because Lee made it look that easy?
The landscape is pretty much wooded - hence one can always steal a march on you....
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Well...I don‘t know....many a general blundered in territory even more suited for defense than Virginia.
Maybe all of us are just concluding that Virginia is that easy to defend because Lee made it look that easy?
The landscape is pretty much wooded - hence one can always steal a march on you....
There is one element of Virginia territory in particular which is highly defensible, and that is the Rapidan. This is because it acts as a kind of "logistical firebreak" - you can't simply advance down the rail lines, because if you pick the western one you have to take the strong position of Rapidan Station (while your flanks are exposed at Culpeper etc.) and if you pick the eastern one then you have to take Fredericksburg. This means that you have to either fight a slugging match in which the defensive has the advantage, or cross by manoeuvre, and if you cross by manoeuvre you more or less have to go through the Wilderness (which puts you on a time limit, you have to regain supply before you run out of food in the Wilderness and the clock is not long, and you can't forage there because it's the Wilderness - which means that simply being able to stop the Union army marching for long enough can compel a withdrawal, as per Hooker)

Once the Union has secure supply south of the Rapidan then they can always outflank Confederate positions between there and Richmond by working around the eastern flank.



What really makes defensible terrain is that your enemy has no good options for circumventing it, though. The Tullahoma movement compels Bragg to fall back dozens of miles - but of course he has those dozens of miles to fall back.
 

BillWright

Private
Joined
Jul 15, 2021
Joseph Johnson is no hero to those of us from Vicksburg. Sending him south was an insult from Jefferson Davis. In my professional opinion the rear guard of Joseph Johnson and the rear guard of Mc Clellan army would have bumped into each other in the Mojave desert from backing away from each other from retreating 😂🤣😂
 
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